Despite gloomy forecasts for the last decade it seems the high street isn’t dead… yet. In fact in some areas it’s seeing something of a revival.
The landscape has shifted substantially since the Millennium dawned, with a 5000% increase in online sales in the first decade alone and a continual steady rise in the number of people who purchase on the internet.
However, there’s a trend running alongside the shift of high street retailers to online, for traditionally online retailers to open up physical stores too. Amazon acquired the Whole Foods chain last year while Missguided has opened two shopping mall sites and Made.com launched a concept showroom. The trend is also evident with financial services providers, with many traditional providers keen to maintain a presence on the high street, and Metro Bank making bricks and mortar branches a core part of their strategy. It’s one that appears to have paid off for the company, with them topping the official bank service league table, as announced last week.
Taking to the streets
A recent report from JLL Research noted that of the top 100 digital native brands, there were plans for 850 store openings over the next five years. That demonstrates the value of the in-person connection to businesses. What’s evident though is that having a physical space isn’t just about transactions, it’s about the quality of experience that customers get from taking the time to visit. It’s the added layer of impression that can’t be so easily derived from a screen.
The relationship here isn’t simply transactional – it has to offer more of the softer points – from dedicated face to face services to additional benefits. For retailers this may be the chance to have a makeover in a clothes store or to take away samples of a product. For financial services this is more likely to take the form of dedicated advisors to help with anything from using internet banking to personalised planning – while enjoying a fresh coffee in branch.
FinTech is consistently making headlines for its advances in creating a frictionless transactional experience. Effectively the aim is to use software and user experience learnings to remove the effort, time and cost involved in making financial decisions while providing good rates. The issue with FinTech however is that it’s completely remote, and that’s not necessarily what customers want (59% of customers strongly agree/ agree that ‘to take up a new product or get advice, [they] need to be able to visit a branch or call a real person). As a result we’re seeing a trend towards financial services companies investing in a more personalised response.
The branch of the future
Last year we designed the concept branch for Principality Building Society. The financial services provider pride themselves on being at the heart of their communities, and the new branches reflect their dedication to putting their customers’ needs first.
The ‘home from home’ approach features touches of home decor, refreshments and dedicated areas for customers to relax. There’s also a family-focused area with interactive games to help teach children basic financial skills.
Careful consideration was given to every aspect of the experience with areas of interaction and privacy factored in. Taking note of the increasing trend towards digital interfaces, branch staff are on hand with iPads to greet visitors to the branch and help guide them towards the service they need. For more confidential conversations booths are available.
Principality haven’t been alone in their approach and we’ve since seen brands such as Nationwide and Virgin Money create innovative and inviting spaces in their retail branches to improve the face-to-face service that they offer. What does this demonstrate? When it comes to decisions around money, FinTech may be starting the revolution, but it appears customer experience is still winning the war.